Soyuz 5: almost another space disaster

Soyuz 5The Soviet Union launches a three-man crew aboard Soyuz 5, which docks in orbit with the already-launched Soyuz 4 – the first two crewed spacecraft to accomplish this feat. The Soyuz 5 crew consists of cosmonauts Boris Volynov, Alexei Yeliseyev and Yevgeny Khrunov, but only Volynov makes the return journey aboard Soyuz 5, as his crewmates board Soyuz 4 via spacewalk. It’s probably just as well for them: after three days in orbit, Soyuz 5 begins its descent to Earth, but the failure of explosive bolts meant to separate the re-entry capsule from the rest of the vehicle fail. To maintain some semblence of a survivable aerodynamic profile, Volynov flies Soyuz 5 in nose-first – one of the riskiest re-entries in the history of human spaceflight, since the nose of the capsule is not covered by any heat shielding. The vehicle separates just before the stress of re-entry would have destroyed it, but then its parachutes fail to completely deploy, resulting in a punishingly jarring but non-fatal landing, hard enough to break Volynov’s teeth.

Similar malfunctions will plague a pair of Soyuz vehicles returning from the International Space Station in 2007. Soyuz 5 is the final crewed Soviet flight prior to the moon landing.